MANILA, Philippines – Abu Sayyaf militants operating in the southern Philippines have been hounded by funding problems, kidnapping even poor victims to get ransom and using cheaper but more lethal bombs than in the past, according to a government report.
The al-Qaida-linked militants have also grappled with the loss of several top leaders and factionalism but remain a key security threat, according to the confidential government security report, seen by The Associated Press on Thursday.
The Abu Sayyaf was founded in 1991 on the predominantly Muslim island of Basilan in the southern Philippines, and has been blamed for bombings, kidnappings and beheadings. It has been blacklisted by Washington as a terrorist organization.
Armed attacks by the militants dropped by nearly half to 54 last year, down from 104 in 2009, the report said. The 2010 assaults included 11 kidnappings, which enabled them to raise $704,000 in ransom, it said.
Desperate for funds, the militants have targeted people who could hardly pay ransom. They killed at least six hostages whose families failed to pay ransom last year, according to the report.
The Abu Sayyaf has targeted "even ordinary individuals who do not have the financial capacity to pay ransom, such as drivers, teachers, ordinary employees and local residents," the report said, describing the trend as a "significant" change in the longstanding problem of kidnappings in the country's volatile south.
In the past, the militants have usually targeted foreign and local tourists, as well as businessmen.
Instead of purchasing weapons, the Abu Sayyaf now makes bombs that are "cheaper and more effective in inflicting casualties to the enemy," the report said.
The Abu Sayyaf, which has 410 fighters with about 340 firearms, remains without a central leader after several of its top commanders were killed or captured by troops in recent years. Its two biggest factions are based in southern Sulu province and on Basilan island, the report said.
Meanwhile, the International Committee of the Red Cross said Thursday that the suspension of the deployment of its foreign and Filipino aid workers to Sulu would remain indefinitely due to continuing danger in the impoverished region.
Abu Sayyaf gunmen kidnapped three Red Cross workers from Switzerland, Italy and the Philippines in Sulu in early 2009, releasing them months later, reportedly in exchange for a huge ransom. Philippine government and Red Cross officials, however, later denied paying the militants.
"So far, our analysis is that it's still too delicate to go there," Jean-Daniel Tauxe, who heads the ICRC delegation in the Philippines, said at a news conference, citing continuing kidnappings in Sulu, a predominantly Muslim province about 610 miles (980 kilometers) south of Manila.
When the main town of Jolo was inundated by flood recently, the ICRC had to deliver aid through workers based in the province, Tauxe said.